Sask. nurses want prescribing power to tackle opioid addiction

On Thursday, Saskatchewan registered nurses will vote on proposed bylaw changes that would allow nurse practioners to prescribe opioid substitution therapies, like methadone.

On Thursday, registered nurses will vote on bylaw changes that could expand the scope of their practice

Pictured is a 35 mg liquid dose of methadone. On Thursday, Saskatchewan nurses will vote on proposed bylaw changes that would allow them to prescribe opioid substitution therapies, like methadone. (Kevin D. Liles/Associated Press)

Saskatchewan registered nurses will vote Thursday on bylaw changes that would allow nurse practioners to prescribe medication to help people addicted to opioids. 

Currently, doctors are the only people in the province who can prescribe methadone or other opioid substitution therapies that can help with withdrawal symptoms and cravings. 

The Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA) said that's not enough to meet the need and is looking at nurse practitioners to fill the gap. 

"Enabling RN(NP)s as authorized prescribers will significantly impact the number of clients who can access this service with the goal of reducing the number of opioid related deaths and poisonings in Saskatchewan," Joanne Petersen, SRNA President, said in a press release.

"The present need in our province outweighs the current number of authorized prescribers and authorising RN(NP)s to prescribe these drugs will make a substantial difference."

SRNA Executive Director Carolyn Hoffman said the association has heard from many nurses who say they've witnessed a gap in service. 

"And also a wide number of physicians, employers, patients, family members that there is not the access that they need for this type of service," she said.

According to Hoffman, nurse practitioners would be required to take additional training in order to prescribe the medications if the bylaw came into effect. She estimated it would be a two to three day educational course. 

The expanded powers would also mean nurse practitioners could prescribe methadone for patients dealing with pain, particularly those in palliative care.

"We're framing the bylaw so as new drugs emerge, we would be able to advance that as well."

Not all nurse practitioners would be required to start prescribing methadone, Hoffman said. It would be for nurses who were interested in the service and work in an area where it's needed.

Furthermore, she said they would work in teams and would be evaluated continually. 

Registered nurses will vote on the proposed bylaw changes Thursday at the SRNA annual meeting.

Hoffman said having a bylaw that governs the policy can ensure transparency.

"If patients or families have any concerns they can come to us and we can review that against this bylaw and take action if we need to," she said.  

The SRNA said harm reduction strategies such as this are important responses to the national opioid crisis. 

with files from the Morning Edition